The Feminism of Wuthering Heights

Something that strikes me in Wuthering Heights, and especially interests me because I do not recall it from high school, is the portrayal of the female characters. Of course, it is much less surprising than if the author had been a man, but it is still exciting to see. The first woman that is introduced to the reader is Mrs. Heathcliff, and though she seemingly embodies the qualities of an ideal lady, is cast in a decidedly negative light. Isabella, another prim and proper, is similarly criticized by the author. A particular line in chapter two reminded me greatly of Eliot’s essay on Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft. After an argument between Heathcliff and Mrs. Heathcliff, Lockwood observes, “Mrs. Heathcliff curled her lip, and walked to a seat far off, where she kept her word by playing the part of a statue during the remainder of my stay.” In Eliot’s piece, she recalls an ancient Roman quote, ” Sit divus, dummodo non sit vivus” meaning: let him be a god, provided he be not living. She applies this to Fuller and Wollstonecraft’s views on how men treat their wives at the time; let them be thoughtless idols, in other words, let them be statues like Mrs. Heathcliff. She is a doll sitting in her shrine, just as Eliot says. Eliot also comments on Fuller and Wollstonecraft’s ideas of encouraging female independence. Eliot dismisses this, claiming that women lose strength through this “false position.” It seems that Catherine exists to defy that. She is described multiple times as independent, wild, and strong; all things that were unacceptable for women to be. And yet, Catherine is the female character that Bronte wishes her audience to favor. This in itself is a rather radical position for an author to encourage.

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